You Should Know: Dan Smyers
Wexford native Dan Smyers, with Dan + Shay bandmate Shay Mooney, has conquered Nashville with a record-breaking No. 1 hit and songwriting prowess.
There was a time when Dan Smyers was just that weird guy playing Goo Goo Dolls songs on his guitar in the corner of some random house party in Pittsburgh.
Now he plays on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Since Dan + Shay’s explosive entrance into the country-music scene via the success of the debut single “19 You + Me,” the duo’s premiere album, “Where It All Began,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in 2014 — making them the first rookie duo to arrive at No. 1 with a debut.
The sought-after songwriting team has toured with Blake Shelton. In February, they embarked on their first headlining tour, “Where It All Began,” which includes an April 9 stop at Stage AE.
Growing up in Wexford, Smyers, 27, received his first guitar while he was in the sixth grade. He sharpened his musical skills playing with rock bands such as Bonaventure and the Pittsburgh-based Transition.
“It’s kind of hard in the middle of Pennsylvania to find a niche in country music,” Smyers says. “I had been writing country music for a long time, but I just didn’t show it to a lot of people. When I decided to move to Nashville [a few years ago], I thought I would be able to put all of my influences in a pot and kind of stir them up and create a unique sound.”
From there, Dan + Shay evolved.
“We just clicked from the very start,” recalls Shay Mooney, who shares a love of the Pittsburgh Steelers with his bandmate. “Dan brought so many things to the table.”
What kind of kid were you growing up? I was always playing sports, from baseball to basketball to football. But I also loved music. I would go to concerts [at 3 p.m.] and try to meet the artists and stuff.
So, you were a groupie? Not sure if I was a groupie, but I was one of those kids waiting in the parking lot hours before a show taking pictures on my disposable camera (laughs). I can now appreciate when fans do come early for our shows.
Other than music, what else kept you busy while you were growing up in Wexford?
It sounds stupid, but I loved hanging out with my friends at Sheetz. Kids from my high school and a couple of other high schools would congregate there at the gas station after football games. If we couldn’t find any other place to go, we would go to Sheetz.
How did you end up with a degree in finance from Carnegie Mellon University?
I have always loved math and always thought the similarities between music and math were really cool. I was also very interested in business. I mean, being in a band is basically [like being] a small-business owner. Our business managers probably hate me because I overanalyze everything, but I love the business side of music.
You met Shay at a house party in Nashville in December 2012. What impressed you the most when you first started playing music with him? Besides having the greatest voice I had ever heard? (laughs). I mean, the guy was, and is, super talented, and whether we were singing Michael Jackson or Rascal Flatts, our harmonies were just effortless. He was anticipating where I was going, and I was, too, and the crazy thing was that we started making songs on the spot. Our minds were in the same place. We soon realized that our product was better than our individual parts.
What have been some of the most surreal moments of your musical journey so far?
There are really too many to count. I mean, the award nominations are always crazy, but it doesn’t hit you until you get to the actual show and walk down the red carpet and see people [such as] Tim McGraw and George Strait walk by you. You have to pinch yourself and make sure it’s not a dream. We will run into artists, and the fact that they might even know our name is still crazy for me. When people you look up to and grew up listening to accept you into their community, it’s surreal.
How do you plan to top 2014?
We already have about 40 or 50 songs written for our next album. I guess you can never be too far ahead (laughs). Even if we don’t record them, there are a lot of great country artists that might be interested — [the songs] might be brought to life on other people’s records. But otherwise, we want to do lots and lots of shows. For me, there is nothing better than being busy.